Telescope station takes up work
In Germany, the first international telescope station of the LOw Frequency ARray (LOFAR) radio telescope has started operation, the station, dubbed IS-DE1, which will be run by the Max Planck
Institute for Radio Astronomy, is situated in Effelsberg in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and is the second of many to be installed.
LOFAR was by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, ASTRON, and it was in Exloo in the north-east of the Netherlands that the first national station was set up in 2006. There, a further
36 are to follow over the next two years with more than 25,000 individual antennae.
Embracing a new concept, LOFAR is the first radio telescope without moving parts. The direction and field of view of the stations are hence not determined mechanically, but electronically
combining signals from the 96 single antennae of a station and ultimately different stations.
The array operates at low frequencies of between 20 and 80 MHz and will help investigate various sources of cosmic radiation such as exploding stars, distant galaxies and quasars hosting
supermassive black holes. These investigations require a minute angular resolution – measuring the angular distance between two objects. This will be achieved by connecting the stations in the
Netherlands, Germany and soon other European countries (e.g. UK, France, Sweden) via high-speed, cross-border optical fibre links, which will transfer the data to the LOFAR supercomputer (Blue
Gene/L) at the University of Groningen.
‘With LOFAR, a new age has dawned and research of the Universe at the very longest wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum has begun,’ the LOFAR consortium claims. ‘LOFAR will attract
astronomers from all over the world, eager to explore this little-explored frequency range for studies ranging from highly energetic phenomena in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, through the
nearest planets, to the extremely distant first stars and galaxies forming at the earliest observable times in the Universe.’
The consortium also suggests that the benefits of the array could be greatly increased by linking it to the European Géant network. ‘It would be a natural step to create a Europe-wide
sensor grid for astronomy by adding LOFAR stations to these sites. As a European Sensor Grid, LOFAR could provide essential ground-based information complementary to earth-observation
satellites, and would thus form an important contribution to the European Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) programme.’
The ?148 million project is funded by the Dutch government, the European Community and the Northern Netherlands Assembly (SNN), a regional network of the provinces of the Northern Netherlands.
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